DURHAM, N.C. Microscopic particles of carbon known as buckyballs may be able to keep the nation's water pipes clear in the same way clot-busting drugs prevent arteries from clogging up.
Engineers at Duke University have found that buckyballs hinder the ability of bacteria and other microorganisms to accumulate on the membranes used to filter water in treatment plants. This attribute leads the researchers to believe that coating pipes and membranes with these nanoparticles may prove to be an effective strategy for addressing one of the major problems and costs of treating water.
"Just as plaque can build up inside arteries and reduce the flow of blood, bacteria and other microorganisms can over time attach and accumulate on water treatment membranes and along water pipes," said So-Ryong Chae, post-doctoral fellow in Duke's environmental and civil engineering department. The results of his experiments were published March 5, 2009 in the Journal of Membrane Sciences.
"As the bacteria build up on these surfaces, they attract other organic matter, creating a biofilm that slowly builds up over time," Chae continued, "The results of our experiments in the laboratory indicate that buckyballs may be able to prevent this clogging, known as biofouling. The only other options to address biofouling are digging up the pipes and replacing the membranes, which can be expensive and inconvenient."
A buckyball, or C60, is one shape within the family of tiny carbon shapes known as fullerenes. They are named after Richard Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome, since their shape resembles his famous structure.
"Biofouling is viewed as one of the biggest costs associated with membrane-based water treatment systems," said Claudia Gunsch, assistant professor of civil engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering and senior member of the research team. "These membranes have very small pores, so they can get sto
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